Jen Ho-Tseng

The 7 Series – Iowa Cubs Produced Prospects in 2017 but Changes Are Coming

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By Todd Johnson

Overall Record – 67-72

For the second straight year, manager Marty Pevey had to assemble a starting rotation made out of spare parts until August. Injuries and promotions at both the major and minor league levels cut his starting rotation short. The I-Cubs did have a potent offense led by the Cubs minor league player of the year, Victor Caratini. Starting pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng put together the best half by a pitcher in AAA since Kyle Hendricks was there.

The Iowa Cubs are still producing prospects to help Chicago every year. This year we saw, in addition to Caratini and Jen-Ho, Ian Happ, Eddie Butler, Jeimer Candelario, Mark Zagunis, Dillon Maples, and several relief pitchers help out the big club in some capacity. I expect more prospects will help out again in 2018, likely they will be just in bench roles. I don’t see anyone with the everyday playing career path of Ian Happ in the upper parts of the pipeline. Caratini looks to make the 25 man roster in Chicago next spring but just as the backup catcher. I am curious as to what the plans for Mark Zagunis are as he doesn’t have much left to prove in AAA.

Here are seven things to know about the 2017 Iowa Cubs.

1. Bijan Rademacher had the quietest best second half of any prospect in the system. I was a little surprised he wasn’t named the July player of the month as he hit almost .400. He can play all three outfield positions and I think he has one of the best outfield arms after Eddy Martinez. The issue is that he doesn’t project to be anything other than a fourth outfielder. Then again, he hasn’t really been given the chance to show that he can be something else. He has begun to hit for more power and I like what he can do at the plate. He can hit for average and he knows how to work an at bat.

2. I would not be surprised to see the big league club continue to clean house again at Iowa. The 2017 roster at Iowa only had a few position players that might project to make it to Chicago. Most of the roster were journeyman players looking for one more opportunity to get back to the big leagues. With Tennessee sending anywhere between 6 and 9 position players to Iowa next year, I don’t think there are going to be too many roster spots available for any player or prospect nearing 27 years of age. Already, Jake Hannemann, Pierce Johnson, and Felix Pena have new homes for 2018. I don’t know if John Andreoli will be back again either.

3. I still believe in Chesny Young despite his up-and-down year. I think that he has some adjusting to do at this level and I’m confident that he will do well in his second go around at AAA in 2018.

4. Unless Eddie Butler can add some sort of out pitch, I don’t know if he’s going to be anything more than a fill-in at the major-league level. He had his moments this year in Chicago, but he never went much beyond five innings. He needs to be more efficient to get outs quickly and go deeper into games.

5. I am still pulling for Ryan Williams to make it. I just like the kid. He has a bulldog mentality that I love. However, after basically missing two full seasons, I wonder if returning to the bullpen might be best for his long term health. In 2018, we will see.

6. Dillon Maples is going to be close to making the Chicago Cubs 25 man roster next spring. I like the fact that he’s going to get more instruction from big league coaches that will only enhance his chances.

7. For me, the highlights of the year were the second halves of Jen-Ho Tseng (1.80 ERA) and Taylor Davis (.297 avg with 62 RBI). I am glad Davis got the call to make it to Chicago. His story is a tale of perseverance and he is an outstanding teammate and hitter that I think can play somewhere in the majors. I don’t know if Tseng will be given a true opportunity to pitch in the big leagues next year but he should get a few starts with the club in spring training. A lot of his future is tied to what the Cubs do to add starting pitching this offseason.

What to Watch for in 2018
There are going to be at least six position players from Tennessee who should start in Iowa next year. I think many will benefit from playing in the Pacific Coast League but none more than catcher Ian Rice. If you dismiss his batting average and just look at his power numbers and on base percentage, you begin to see his value and how much greater he is than his fellow prospects (17 HRs, .353 OBP). I think he is really going to benefit from playing in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League more than any other prospect in 2018.

Jason Vosler will also benefit from playing in such environs. After a poor second half, Vosler should look to recapture what made his first half so fantastic in 2017. In the first half, he hit at a .274/.375/.521 clip with 13 HRs and 49 RBI. In addition, Yasiel Balaguert, David Bote, Trey Martin, and Charcer Burks should be starting everyday in Des Moines next summer.

Remember the name Adbert Alzolay. Out of all the prospects at Tennessee, I think he might be the most ready for Chicago. Even though he is currently a starting pitcher, I can see him coming out of the bullpen in Chicago as early as the middle of next summer. With a fastball that sits 95-97, there’s a lot to like.

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A New Top 21 List – A Few Movers and Shakers

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By Todd Johnson

I am thinking I had this list done about three weeks ago. I wanted to put it out almost immediately after the minor league season ended. After thinking about it, I thought I would just let it settle and edit it before I put it out. To be honest, it has changed much from when I wrote it to today. In fact, I was reconsidering re-ordering 5-9 all night.

Card made from a photo by Freek Bouw/27 Outs Baseball.com

There are really only two major changes in this list from the summer. They are the inclusion of outfielders Jonathan Sierra and Nelson Velazquez. In fact, I had Velasquez shoot all the way into the top 10. The Cubs don’t have anybody like him in the system with his home run power and production.

I still think this list is pretty volatile. After the Arizona Fall League, I will think about mixing it up a bit. But with who is going to Arizona, I think only one prospect might improve their lot on the list.

The list could change quite a bit later this off-season as trades are made and injuries are revealed. I think the biggest risers and fallers next year will be at AA Tennessee. The Smokies will have pitchers Thomas Hatch, Trevor Clifton, Oscar de la Cruz, Duncan Robinson, Michael Rucker and position players Zack Short and Eddy Martinez. Those seven will determine how the rest of the list looks because production at AA signals that the product could be productive in Chicago.

South Bend’s rotation next year will also have a huge impact on the list as recent draft picks will be unleashed without any restrictions. Cory Abbott and Keegan Thompson are two pitchers who could make some waves in 2018 with some excellent performances next summer.

So, without further adieu, here is the current Top 21 list in video form.

Cubs’ MiLB 2nd Half All-Star Team Shows the Shift in the System

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By Todd Johnson

Originally, I did not plan on putting together a second half all star team. However, after looking at some of the performances of several prospects over the last 2 and 1/2 months, I thought they deserved to be honored for their performances.

I always like putting together a second-half team because they usually contain a few recent draft picks and some players from the lower parts of the system. Last year, I started including a couple players from the Dominican Summer League. That holds true for this year as well.

What started with the July All-Star team continued with the August All-Star team and this team. That is, in this list, you can definitely see a shift in the system. Younger players are starting to rise to the top and perform at a high-level. This is true of a couple of draft picks in Austin Upshaw and Nelson Velazquez along with several pitchers from the Dominican Summer League..

So, without further adieu, here is the All-Star team for the second half of the 2017 minor league season.

When I sit down to make my preseason All-Star team in 2018, a lot of the players listed in the video above will get a lot of merit for inclusion. One name not included that I am interested in seeing more of next year is Jose Gutierrez. The 18-year-old outfielder from Venezuela hit .354 in August and was a key cog in helping the Mesa Cubs win a title.

The Weekly – Getting Hot, Schedules, Awards, and a Question

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By Todd Johnson

After today, there are just two weeks left to the major-league regular season. The Cubs’ bats could not have picked a better time to wake up from their hitting with runners in scoring position slumber. Hopefully, the bullpen can hold up along with the starting pitching the rest of the way. One thing I can tell you is the next two weeks are not going to be dull. The Cubs play the Brewers and Cardinals 8 more times.

2018 Schedules
I was finally able to get a peek at next year’s schedule for South Bend and the Chicago Cubs 2018 calendar. I am thinking of doing some traveling next year and it looks like the schedules are going to cooperate.

For South Bend, they venture west of Indiana for four series. Next year, the young Cubs are going to be in Cedar Rapids and Peoria on one trip and then Kane County and the Quad Cities on a separate jaunt. I will not be able to make the Cedar Rapids series as I will be in Springfield at the state history fair. For Peoria, it’s about an hour and a half away and is a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday series. So, it looks like I will only make one or two of those games. But for the Quad Cities and Kane County portion, those series are both in July and will be day trips for me as both are just an hour and fifteen minutes away or less. I haven’t been to the Quad Cities stadium in a few years and I look forward to going. I just hope some of the Cubs top prospects are still on the team.

Looking at the big Cubs’ schedule, I got really excited to see that the Cubs will be going to Kansas City in early August. A little over 6 hours away for me, the city is also home to the Negro League Baseball Museum and a national Jazz Museum. Also, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum is next door in Independence. Those are pretty much all my favorite type of things to do in life. Add in the vaunted BBQ and my wife and I are set. We are going to stay for a few days and probably catch two games. I cannot wait!

Awards
The Cubs also presented Jen-Ho Tseng and Victor Caratini with their MiLB Players of the Year Awards. This is the first time I can remember both players being in uniform  to receive them. Jen-Ho’s debut start was less than ideal and I don’t think he will get another start unless the Cubs clinch or there is an injury or rain out. He looked to be overwhelmed at the experience. I am sure he will make a few starts in spring training for the club, which will probably go much better.

Transactions
The Cubs also signed a non-drafted free agent from Oregon State named Christian Donahue. Donahue is a second baseman and outfielder who had an outstanding 2016 season but struggled in 2017 and was suspended from the team just prior to the College World Series. That would explain why he wasn’t drafted. But the Cubs may have gotten a steal as most reports of his abilities and skills have been very complementary. He’s not big at 5’7″, and he’s not going to hit for a lot of power, but he does have the ability to square up the ball and hit for a high average. As freshman, he hit .287 and as a sophomore, .339. He was named to the first team All-Pac 12 that year.

A Question Answered
I also got my question answered on MLB Pipeline this week. I asked which Cub is likely to make a top 100 list next year. Check out the response from Johnathan Mayo.

I like that Mayo thinks so highly of Albertos. He is ranked #1 on Cubs Central’s Top 21 list now and on the new one that comes out in a couple of weeks. I got a little giddy when I saw that he threw Lange in there, too.

Cubs Insider
For the first time, I did not publish the affiliate year-end posts this year. Instead, they were published over the last two weeks at Cubs Insider.

Iowa

Tennessee

Myrtle Beach

South Bend

Eugene

Mesa

I will be posting articles in a couple of weeks where I look at seven things about each affiliate from the past year and one thing to look for in 2018.

Card of the Week

Upcoming Posts This Week
2nd Half All-Star Team
The All-Injury Team
Jesus Camargo Profile

“The New Cubs Farmhand” will be published at BP Wrigleyville this Thursday.

Cubs’ August MiLB All-Star Team Has 16 New Faces

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By Todd Johnson

What a difference the last two months had on the look of the Cubs’ system. A lot of familiar names are gone and new ones have taken their place. You would think that this month’s All-Star team would be pitching centric but it’s not. Instead, there are a plethora of hitters who rose to the occasion in August.

Surprisingly, the position of catcher saw the greatest highlights out of all Cubs prospects. Five years ago that was a huge pit of emptiness and now has become a position of strength at every level. Outfield play was also outstanding along with the reliever corps.

While there were several hitters over .300, only a few displayed any kind of power and only one power prospect made the team. The great thing about that is he’s only 18 years old.

As for starting pitching, most MiLB pitchers tend to get run down in August but several arms had a very good month with four outstanding hurlers putting up ERAs under 2.00. This month’s team is structured a little different as it has more than one player at a few everyday positions.

Team Breakdown
Myrtle Beach, South Bend, and Eugene each have 6 reps.
Tennessee, Iowa, and Mesa each have 5. The DSL has 1.

Upcoming posts
Saturday – Cards of the Month
Sunday – The Weekly
Monday – Prospect Profile: Jared Young

The Weekly: Oscar is Back, So Are Mills and Stinnett, and Lots of Good Pitching

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By Todd Johnson

Two Cubs pitchers returned to action in Mesa last night. Alec Mills from Iowa went two innings with 2 Ks and Oscar de la Cruz from Myrtle Beach made his first appearance since May 25. Oscar threw 2 IP with 1 K. Those were good to read about! Based on Oscar’s rehab last year, I would expect them to work their way through the system before getting back to their respective affiliates.

Jake Stinnett seems to be flourishing as a reliever thanks in part to coach Ron Villone’s advice in Mesa. Stinnett has a 1.35 ERA in relief in his short time for the Smokies. Things are looking up for the 2014 second round pick.

The MiLB season is winding down with just two weeks to go for most of the affiliates. The DSL teams end next Saturday, the 26th. I started back to teaching this past week. However, it is always an adjustment transitioning from summer to school. I hope to write about three posts a week once I get settled at school a bit more. 

There was a lot of good pitching this week. It was hard to pick a pitcher of the day every day this week. Duncan Robinson threw 5 scoreless and didn’t get pitcher of the day on the 17th. Jesus Tejada in the DSL struck out 10 on Friday while Erling Moreno Kd 8 in his lone start this week.

While I did not write much that was published the past week, I did some pre-writing activities. I began researching splits for the August All-Star Team and 2nd Half All-Star Team. I also narrowed down players for the second half breakout prospect awards.

For the breakout hitter, I am completely undecided. I have some thinking to do as no one in the states really stood out that hasn’t been on someone’s radar. As for starting pitching, Duncan Robinson and Michael Rucker are the finalists just for the second half. Dillon Maples, David Garner, and Craig Brooks are the relievers who earned serious props in the second half. Here are the first half breakout players.

I also began assembling some “Names to Know” for 2018. It is a collection of names from Mesa and Eugene with a few other players mixed in. Basically, these are the players who I can’t wait to see play. There are several names you already know. I will break that down into pitching and hitting storylines.

I don’t know when any of the posts listed above will be out, but I am leaning towards the early and middle parts of September. They would fit snugly alongside the year end affiliate reviews.

Around the Minors This Week:
Iowa – 6-3: Jen-Ho Tseng continues to do well. He could push the issue to start in Chicago at some point next year.

Tennessee – 2-4: Some hitters seem to have had a resurgence down in Tennessee after some poor second halfs. Jason Vosler, Charcer Burks, and David Bote seem to be turning it on to keep up with Yasiel Balaguert, who has been hot all second half.

Myrtle Beach – 7-1: They are getting hot just in time to defend the Mills Cup. Tyler Alamo is quietly putting together a great season.

South Bend – 5-2: If you take away June and the first two weeks of July, this would have been  a playoff team. There’s a lot of talent here even if the record doesn’t show it.

Eugene – 2-5: Poor defense and a dormant offense are derailing their playoff chances. Miguel Amaya, on the other hand, seems to be finding his bat.

Mesa – 4-3: They are still very young and very raw. Catcher Marcus Mastrobuoni has been the team’s best hitter.

DSL 1 – 3-2: DSL 2 – 3-2

I will have a post out Tuesday summing up some possible prospects to keep an eye on at Fall Instructs from DSL 1 and DSL 2.

Baseball Card of the Week

Players of the Week

My Other Stuff on the Web From This Week
Cubs Insider:
Prospect Stock Investment
September Roster Expansion

BP Wrigleyville
Duncan Robinson Part 1

Cubs MiLB Pitcher of the Year Award Is Still a Bit Murky

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By Todd Johnson

On Sunday morning, the Cubs announced that Jen-Ho Tseng and D.J. Wilson were named the Cubs’ MiLB Pitcher and Player of the Month for July. Tseng had a 1.42 ERA at AAA Iowa to go along with 23 Ks in 25.1 IP. Wilson hit .284 with 7 HRs and 21 RBI in between Mesa (rehab stint) and South Bend. With officially four weeks left in the MiLB season, it got me thinking: Who will be the Cubs MiLB Pitcher and Hitter of the Year?

When it comes to hitting, the winner is clear cut – Victor Caratini. No one else is even in the discussion in my mind. He’s batting .350 with a .959 OPS. He’s hit 10 HRs and driven in 58. While his OBP is a bit less than Mark Zagunis’, whose isn’t. I do not see how Caratini could lose this award. Since his return to Iowa from Chicago, he’s hitting .600.

On the other hand, selecting the Pitcher of the Year is going to be a tough choice that will play out over the next month. I currently have six pitchers in the running with five having a pretty good shot of staking a claim to it.

The Front Runners

Michael Rucker has done it all this year in 84 innings. He’s been a reliever and a starter. He’s been a closer, a setup man, and an ace. His 1.93 ERA is the lowest of the starters up for the award. His 95 Ks gives him a 9.21 K/9 rate. I love to watch him pitch as he just throws strikes. He’s only walked 16 all year.

Jen-Ho Tseng has had a resurgent year relying on good command of his pitches which includes a low 90s fastball and a plus curve and change. His 2.77 combined ERA between Iowa and Tennessee is impressive and he has 110 Ks in 120 IP.

Adbert Alzolay was my breakout player of the first half. Now at AA Tennessee, he has a combined 2.84 ERA between Myrtle Beach and Tennessee with 101 Ks in 107 IP. I like his energy, his pacing, and his 96-97 mph heater. He still needs to refine his secondaries going forward.

The Long Shots

Duncan Robinson is a bit like Rucker in that he began the year as a reliever and morphed into a starter. He was a Midwest League All-Star and was promoted in July to Myrtle Beach from South Bend. On the year, he has a 2.13 ERA over 91 innings. His 77 Ks take him out the discussion a bit when compared with other front runners.

It has been a most impressive season for Justin Steele. He’s been very steady all year. His 2.92 ERA is a testament to his approach and hard work after a rough season at South Bend in 2016. He has 82 Ks in 98.2 IP.

If you were to pick this award on sheer domination, reliever Dakota Mekkes would win hands down. He dominated at South Bend and then again at Myrtle Beach. He did allow an earned run for almost three months. Heading into today, his ERA is a miniscule 0.76 ERA to go along with 79 Ks in 59 IP. Opponents are only hitting .152 against him. If not for 27 walks, I think he would be in Tennessee.

I think Michael Rucker is currently in the lead. However, I truly think the award should go to Mekkes. For the past few years, the Cubs have rewarded starters including Tseng, Trevor Clifton and Duane Underwood. But Mekkes’ season has been one of pure domination across the board and two levels. However, I don’t think the Cubs will give that award to a reliever. I wish they would, though. I really wish they would.